home Entertainment Album Review: Quadra by Sepultura

Album Review: Quadra by Sepultura

| Corwin Davidson | cdavidson20@dtechhs.org | March 6, 2020 |

Sharp, angular bones make up the Sepultura logo. Drawing by Nicolas Gibson

Sepultura is perhaps the most famous Brazilian metal band there is. Founded by brothers Max and Igor Cavalera in the city of Belo Horizonte when they were just teenagers, the band in its early years distinguished itself with pioneering thrash metal, notable for its straightforwardness, brutality, and shaky command of the English language. For their first album, Morbid Visions, the band translated its lyrics word-for-word from their native language of Portuguese with a dictionary. They also forgot to tune their guitars when the time came to actually record the album, but something like that wasn’t about to stop them. The young members of Sepultura had ambition, drive, and a hazy vision of destiny guiding them, the importance of tuning one’s guitars paled in comparison. It’s pretty hard to tell that they forgot over the suspect production and screaming, anyway.

Still, from these somewhat suspect (though quite endearing, in my view) beginnings, the band’s star rose, releasing more critically-acclaimed albums like Beneath the Remains and Arise. Fortunes began to change for Sepultura when they moved away from their vehement thrash metal sound and into the emerging subgenre of groove metal with the album Chaos A.D, a move that both gained them greater commercial success and angered a lot of their fans. Groove metal as a whole is…somewhat contentious in the metal community, but that’s another article. This push towards groove culminated in the album Roots, which was a tremendous commercial success, and has been remembered either for being great and groundbreaking or loathed for “selling out”, depending who you talk to.

However, tragedy struck the band when frontman, guitarist, and songwriter Max Cavalera left the band in acrimonious circumstances after Roots’ release. The remaining members chose to continue with new singer Derrick Green, recruited from the United States. Since then, Sepultura has released a string of albums with Green, to varying commercial and critical success. While arguably decent releases in themselves offering an amalgamation of all their styles, they have suffered from the comparison to the classic albums of the Cavalera era. Every time Sepultura has released an album after 1996, the question has been on everyone’s minds: Does this measure up to the material released when Max Cavalera was at the helm?

We’ll leave that question for later, but one thing I will confidently say: This is a good album. If you put aside the inescapable Cavalera comparisons for a moment, it stands pretty well on its own. It’s a bit better than its predecessor, 2016’s Machine Messiah, and may well have a shot at being the band’s best Derrick-Green-fronted album period. 

Quadra starts off with “Isolation”, which opens with an ominous symphonic intro, before giving way to a positively lethal thrash metal riff and various shoutings from Green. It doesn’t quite recall the days of Arise, but it’s good in itself. The album later moves on into more varied territories, but, fortunately, it isn’t particularly front-loaded. The good stuff is distributed pretty evenly in the album, in what’s actually a pretty clever structure. More on that later.

What may well be the best song on the album is nestled near the end: a number by the name of “Guardians of Earth”. This thing’s got it all. Strange possibly-not-in-4/4 partially acoustic intro, good melodic riffing, symphonic bits, lyrics that actually mean something (climate change, I reckon), and a real overall weight to it. I can’t think of another band off the top of my head that could pull off a progressive-groove-thrash hybrid like that, and there are a whole lot of bands swirling around the top of my head. 

The album closer, “Fear, Pain, Chaos, Suffering”, features a female vocalist in addition to Green, creating an almost haunting effect with her singing layered over his screaming. It serves as both a sort of culmination of the symphonic elements that crop up through the album and more importantly, a culmination of the album itself. It’s clear that Sepultura put some thought into this. 

The musicianship remains as strong as it was in the 1990s. The riffs are strong, varied, and interesting, displaying a creativity perhaps even on the level of Chaos A.D in places, helped along by persistent symphonic bits throughout the album. Drummer Eloy Casagrande deserves a special mention for both an impressive performance and for having co-written much of the album with long-serving guitarist Andreas Kisser. 

The aforementioned clever structure was something that I did not notice until I looked it up: “Quadra” is more than a cool-sounding title. The record is organized into four parts: more-or-less thrash metal, groove-oriented music, progressive songs, and slower stuff. The number four crops up all over the album, as it happens. Was it good that I didn’t notice that? Possibly so, actually. The distinction is now pretty obvious when looking back, but the album was quite enjoyable without noticing it as well. For my money, though my bias shows here, the best section of the four is the more progressive one, with the aforementioned “Guardians of Earth” being extremely good, not to mention the impressive instrumental “The Pentagram”. I’m also partial to the thrashier section, but more important than any ranking is the fact that the good stuff on this album is pretty evenly distributed. The groove section has the lurching “Raging Void”, and the penultimate track of the album. “Agony of Defeat”, is one of the stronger numbers on the whole album, featuring Green singing cleanly, which he is actually quite good at. However, and this is key, Quadra doesn’t just work as disconnected parts, it works as an album. Perhaps counterintuitively, the division into four sections manages to make the thing more cohesive, and an easier listen. Diverse records tend to be easier to get through, and this is no exception.

Now, as much as I would like to say it, Quadra isn’t perfect. Though I cannot point to any song and call it bad, there are several on here that feel, for lack of a better word, uninspired. Some like “Ali” and “Capital Enslavement” I could get from any Sepultura album of the last 20 years, and I wouldn’t be much more entertained by those ones. And despite the diverse structure of the album, I can’t help but feel that the album would be better if Sepultura had gone a little bit further out of their comfort zone. This isn’t pure thrash metal as it is, why not lean into it a little more, do some weirder experimental stuff? Probably the furthest in that direction that the band goes is the short instrumental title track, a cool acoustic piece that leads into the next song. Still, it’s a rare album that can knock every single track out of the park, and I can’t fault Sepultura too much for not quite reaching that.

We come back again to that key question, a question no Sepultura album since 1996 can escape: Does this measure up to the material released when Max Cavalera was at the helm? 

 With Quadra, this question hasn’t been entirely dispelled, but with this multifaceted statement of purpose, Sepultura continues to chip away at it, bit by bit.

8/10

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